Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations

Keep reading for step-by-step instructions to draw a Narnian centaur using the OiLs method, aimed at Masters level students (ages 10-11).

This is my first art lesson on the first day of class to new students, so how do I start? How do I talk about drawing and art with my students–especially when I don’t know what baggage or beliefs about their abilities they may carry with them? To read how I introduce this unit, read How I Talk to My Students About Drawing on Day 1.


I chose the centaur this for week one because I’d met my students at orientation and learned how many of them loved the Narnia stories. I found the original drawing here.


Step #1. Every student gets a copy of this coloring page, and I explain that we are doing only the centaur–to ignore all else on the page for the lesson. First, I ask students to take their pencils and trace the “OiLs”: any circles, straight lines, dots, angled lines and squiggly lines–directly on the drawing. This is basic stuff I know they know; easy. Kids in this program have been taught these basics from Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes each year. But this may be the first time someone asked them to not just look for the basic shapes but also to trace them directly on the image.

Step #2. Then we take it the OiLs concept to the next logical step. I draw basic geometric shapes on the board: triangles, rectangles, etc. I show them how those shapes are made out of OiLs shapes–how merely putting angled lines together gives us triangles, rectangles, etc.

I ask the students to look at the centaur and find any basic geometric shapes lurking behind the lines. I ask them to trace/outline what they see on their paper. I do that to my paper as they do, and then I show them mine. (Some REALLY need to see mine; it can be an abstract concept, like looking for shapes in clouds.) I point out how I see the hands as circles, the legs and arms as variations of circles, ovals and squares, how I see the torso as as a trapezoid sitting on top of a slanted triangle.

centaur shapes tracing 001

Now, my way of breaking up the body into basic geometric shapes is not the only way–students may break the form up differently, because there is no one correct interpretation! Step 2 is complete when the ENTIRE centaur is carved up into basic shapes.

TIP: I’ve found by now that this is a crucial lesson with new students whose capabilities you do not yet know. To avoid this lesson falling flat, I do suggest walking through this as a group. Instead of saying “Everyone trace the shapes you see,” as I did my first two years tutoring, might I suggest being more specific. “Everyone, let’s see what you can do with those legs. What shapes do you see making up the hooves, the calves, knees, thighs?” I’d then show mine and check students. Catch early if someone is not getting it. Skipping this step leads to later steps being impossible. Then I’d have the class, as a group, move to the next part of the body until all portions of the form have been traced on.

THIS is THE skill for this week–spend the most time here for the biggest fruit for the unit! 

Step #3. Next, I hand every student a blank sheet of paper. I ask students if they are capable of copying one of their circles or triangles or rectangles from the body of the centaur–and they smile or laugh! Of course they can! This is it, at its most basic level: breaking down complex shapes into simple ones, and copying those simple shapes.

centaur 1 001

I aim to do step 3 live, on the board for them, in marker. I used to not do that, showing them only my sketch done previously.  I taught the History Camp for practicum last summer and tried out a drawing lesson this way, and I think it is most effective. Students got to see me do it in real time–and most importantly, they got to see not just my finished product, but all the lines I didn’t keep. They saw how the knight I drew from a Prescripts illustration had one leg longer than the other and his neck and head too far to one side. They got to see how I navigated making corrections. They got to see that someone really good at drawing is still making many changes!

I want to model that drawing is a practice–not a performance. This is both good for novice drawers as well as those who identify themselves as artistic. The latter group especially needs the freedom to see a drawing class among peers as a place to try new ways and practice–rather than always performing and proving and protecting their identity as “artist.” It is hard for such students to follow instructions and try something new; they can feel they have a lot to lose if their first attempt isn’t brilliant. A tutor/teacher who can show the vulnerability to practice on the board and show the whole journey to a good drawing–incorrect, erased lines and all–gives more to his/her class than the tutor who shows a perfect, polished example.

Tips: This is a sketch! Draw lightly, and meander into the best/correct shape. Take a look at just one oval I drew. How many ovals did I draw on top of each other, around and around, feeling out the space until I settled on the one I felt was the right size and shape? 3-10? Yep–we’re just testing things out, drawing lightly, warming up.

Also, note that some students will find this lesson frustrating. Particularly ones like my son whom I taught in class last year, who may feel they are good at drawing and don’t want to be bothered with this step! You may have many students who have their own way of approaching a drawing and want to continue in it. They have habits already–they want to start with the eyes and eyelashes and work their way down the rest of the page, detail by detail. They may want to do details first or to always completely draw the head before even sketching anything else.

My son is a perfect example of this. He taught himself to draw his way, and that is a strength–but also a weakness. And I find students who get that head just right and then realize they drew it too far to the left, or at the wrong angle, to get it to match up with the body. And then they do not want to erase their wonderful details in order to re-capture the integrity of the over-all shape. Therefore, their final product has some great details but over-all looks wonky or out of proportion. And so I encourage all students to humor me and get the basic shapes down before they do any details!


Step #4.  Then we get to the part of refining the contours of the shapes. Start anywhere–say the backbone or the arm. Using the basic geometric shapes as a guide, and observing the original drawing closely, draw lines to form the outer contours of the arm, complete with the pieces of armor. The basic geometric shapes can be erased when they are no longer needed as a guide. You can see from my example how two steps of the drawing are still evident. Now I can feel free to erase my guiding shapes.

centaur 2 001


Step #5. Now it’s finally time for all those details! Eyelashes. Buckle. Hair. Nostril, etc.

Unfortunately, the length of our class is not long enough for most students to complete a polished drawing with every detail. Remind them, this is merely practice. I encourage my students to finish their drawings at home and bring them back to class the next week. And some have done so, and I have seen that inspire others.

Thankfully, this is week #1 in CC, and there is not much material to review for the review portion of the class, so that if you need a little more time complete this lesson, it’s possible. In my plans, this is my template for each week. We will add other skills in, but each week, I have my students repeat these same steps. Week 1 with extra time is a good way to lay the groundwork well.

For another idea that works well with week 1, due to the extra wiggle room, check out Drawing Demystified’s lesson 1 idea of doing a baseline drawing in week 1–so that at week 6, students can draw the same image again and see with their own eyes how differently they have learned to approach their drawing tasks. I did this last year and loved it–It was amazing to see the student progress, comparing apples to apples. So the art time looked like this: Without much intro, let students choose a coloring page of the choices you bring in, and give them ten minutes to copy the image onto a blank sheet of paper. (You want these options to be the same images you want them to choose from for the week 6 project.) Collect them and explain that at the end of the 6-weeks drawing unit, they will get them back to compare. Then I launched into the week 1 drawing lesson above and gave it its full 30 minutes. (Again, because it’s week 1, I’m borrowing that extra 10-15 minutes from review since there is so little to do in that department.)

For another Week 1 drawing lesson, here is one of a horse I did for cycle 2. It could easily be used to fit the theme of Cycle 3 American history if that’s what you’re looking for, or Cycle 1 Ancient History:

Basics of Drawing: Fine Arts, Week 1 for Classical Conversations





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Fairie Festival at Spoutwood Farms, Review

The Spoutwood Farm Fairie Festival takes place Friday through Sunday on a weekend close to May 1, in Glen Rock PA, on a sprawling, hilly farm.  Whether you’re like me and value the whimsy of such an event for your kids to enjoy, or you like cosplay or all things natural, artsy, woodsy or fantasy, this is a unique festival that appeals for a variety of reasons.

My Kids’ Favorites

We’ve gone many times now in about 8 years, with kids at different ages, but these things rise to the top:

The Maypole and bubbles: The kids participate in wrapping the brightly colored ribbons and a bubble machine turns the scene iridescent.

fairy 17

This year, the bubble machine was not in this area, but I don’t know why–if it was a conscious choice or if the rain made conditions unfavorable for getting the bubble machine in that location?? The machine was instead at a crossroads of a walkway, and my kids enjoyed it, but it wasn’t nearly as magical.

I love these faces, in photos form a few years back, of my boys chasing those bubbles!

The Maze.  In the woods, with twisting winding paths, five different fairies are hidden. (They are images on a board, each a different color. A small receptacle is mounted there with some sort of chalky substance, and the idea is that kids stick a finger in this to get that color on one of their digits, to prove they found that faerie.)

Here’s my daughter, later in the day, still holding her hand upturned so she won’t lose her fairy dust on each finger!


(Note, one purpose of the colors on fingertips is so that you can get your fortune after you exit the maze; a large board showing all the possible color combinations/orders gives maze-goers their fortune. If that is not something that floats your boat, it’s easy to skip that application. The festival also features tarot card readers and other things of that spiritual bent.)

This year, each fairy had a frame hung in the woods. (I guess my girl just wanted to be silly. Never got a better picture.)


In previous years, the opening section of this maze featured a collection of various random items that could be played s percussive instruments. My kids loved beating on pots, scraping washerboards, etc.

fairy 14

This year, that was gone, but little “houses” made kid-sized were new to us. For instance, one had an old woodstove with a pot on it, under a gathering of branches. The little “room” featured a book shelf with bricks painted as books and tree stumps painted in bright colors for seats.

There was an un-tea party house, a mermaid’s cove, and various gnome habitats hidden throughout the woods. The kids loved the wonder of looking for what they may find around every corner.

Frodo’s Hut Observatory. This little one-room house fully-furnished and cozy always fascinates the kids. A portion of the wall is behind glass so you can see the hut was constructed of straw and plastered over with clay. Of course, my kids are quick to point out that “the real” Frodo’s house would really have a round door!


The hut is a curiosity, but it is also a very cozy, quiet place to rest a bit. One of my boys found a new friend this year who did the maze with him, so then he taught the boy chess.

Inside, this year, a woman was playing a handpan instrument, which enchanted my daughter. One thing I love I that this is a place where children will find friendly adults who are eager/willing to show them their instruments or other aspects of thrir art.

Fairy and Gnome Habitats. You can take a tour or go on your own, which we’ve always done. This is a favorite, every year. Kids/families are invited before the festival to create thee little homes, and it is different every year. The kids are always enchanted by the tiny furniture and the various ways the landscape and flora and fauna are used to created tiny homes. In recent years, a couple of people back in the woods along the path created balloon animals for kids, and that’s always a hit with mine.

Puppet Shows: Going on the free-for-kids Friday, you did miss a good portion of the programming. In previous years, we’ve seen a puppet show featuring a dragon. This year, those were only for the Saturday/Sunday program. BUT–the biggest hit with my daughter this year was something we didn’t even know about–we just literally stumbled upon it. We saw a bunch of girls sitting in the grass and investigated. We found a woman singing and telling a story with tiny, handmade felt and wood puppets, some marionettes. I wish a I had a good detail picture, but my girl said she loved this short treat better than all else.


Play. Even the boy who’d thought he might have outgrown the festival found that he loved “everything” in the end, though his favorite parts were the play areas. The big tractor tire play area with rope swings is always a hit. I wish I had a picture just a few frames before that final one of my boy on the tire swing; it took four kids to get him up in the air so he could swing down. They were all girls, and they all took turns pulling on a long rope to haul the tire to one side so that when they let go, the swinger could fly to the other side. Seeing kids who are strangers mount teamwork–as it was the only way anyone could experience the ride–is pretty neat.

Costumes: My kids love the elves, woodsprites, gnomes, hobbits, fawns, satyrs, gypsies, to name a few of the costumed entities we’ve witnessed there–some festival personnel, but also the attendees. In the past my kids have dressed up as everything from a fairy to Robin Hood.

fairy 10

Disappointments this year. These were few, but to mention:

No Complimentary Fairy Wings: they used to be complimentary to every guest. A tent was set up where kids would pick their color and a custom-made pair of tulle fairy wings with elastic arms were made for each kid. That no longer exists, at least on the Friday we were there. My daughter was all ready to get her wings, color chosen out and all….  Many different vendors were selling wings though–just no freebie ones. (Below, my son, wearing his white wings to play on the tire playground.)

fairy 16

No animals: in previous years, my kids pet llamas and other animals, rode a horse, etc.  This year we saw none on Friday.

The Fairy Tea Party. I’d never gone to that in previous years with the boys or when my girl was too young to care, but I’d always wanted to see what it was like, thinking my girl would love it. I imagined the tea and cookies served took place maybe at little tables and chairs in whimsically decorated tent with women dressed up as fairies interacting with them, telling stories. We went this year, but it was different from I expected. Cups of juice and a tray of cookies were laid out on an oblong table, and people with some sort of understated costuming handed them out. You could walk away and eat them or try to find a place to stand next to the road to eat/drink them. It wasn’t an experience that I expected. But that was just my expectation–it’s not something advertised and not done.  (But what an opportunity missed that someone could do! This place is rollicking with little girls.)

Now, for the practical Mom opinion

  1. The festival is free for kids on Fridays. Adult are $20, so taking kids free on that day makes it more affordable.
  2. It’s run by a farm that raises organic food (a cause near and dear to my heart).
  3. They not only care about sustainable living, they model it. Their “trash” system includes three options: compostable (and that includes the plastic and silverware all food vendors use), recyclable, and (smallest) trash. In fact, the day before I went this year, I happened to meet the woman who heads up this system and she told me about how it’s evolved over the years–and how one year, the workers actually hand-sorted the trash into those piles!
  1. The food. I always go for the food, but this is a place I know I can count on some better choices. From organic granola (I know–how cliche) to hemp pretzels, fermented foods, smoothies and bowls of fresh fruit. (They have funnel cakes, ice cream and french fires too–they just have different options than most places.)
  2. Nursing tent, places to change diapers, and little play areas for toddlers that give kids a safe place to play with boundaries. Sandboxes and sand toys and chalkboards are some items I’ve seen featured.fairy 12

7. Music. Maybe if my kids were older, I’d hear more than mere strains and have time to appreciate the variety of bands all three days–plus on Saturday and Sunday, Celtic and other types of dance troupes perform. I list this as something I appreciate, though I’ve honestly not really had much time to appreciate such a thing yet!

8. Costumed personalities. The faire is littered with costumed characters ready to converse with the kids and bring them into this fantasy world. This year we saw some kind of magician on one of the paths who was talking a lot about different types of gnomes and magic tricks. In previous years, I remember a fairy who interacted with the moss man, which my boys loved:

fairy 19

A gypsy lady was telling fairy stories, pockets fairies gave kids tokens with a story every year (girls got a ring and boys got fairy spy glasses this year), and–my girl’s favorite–a mermaid with a shimmering blue tale sat on a rock wall. (My camera was not cooperating, or I’d show you a picture of my girl mesmerized.)

Things to Consider:

Rain. It’s the beginning of May. I’ve just had to come to terms with the fact that this will be a rain or mud festival, no two ways about it. Multiple years , I did not go because the weather was too bad. This year, I gave up too. It was storming all night  and all morning. but then–inexplicably–the storms stopped and the forecast said nothing more would happen for the afternoon! So I took my kids in a spur-of-the-moment change of mind, even though it meant we missed two hours by the time I managed to get ourselves together and drive there.

So anyway, we know to put on our feet only what we want to get really muddy.

Strollers. First time, I took a stroller. We survived, but it’s really the worst place to take a stroller. It is hilly, and when you combine that with rain, which makes sucking, slurping mud, a stroller is not a help, but rather a heavy thing you have to heave around. The picture below shows that by the time I had my daughter, I’d ditched the stroller, even though it’s nice to have a place to put things, not just the baby!

If you have been there, what is your favorite part bout the Spoutwood Farm Fairie Festival?

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Morisot and Painting Texture

For the final lesson in our Fine Arts unit on famous painters (CC Cycle 2, week 18) we are taking a look at Berthe Morisot–another French Impressionist. (To know how to pronounce her name correctly, check out this little recording.)

I had to pull myself away from getting lost for hours looking through images of her work! Like Degas, she often chose people as her subject, and I found a lot to like about her paintings.

But her work did pose a challenge as far as picking something to emulate for the class. The text on which my lessons are based, Discovering Great Artists: Hands-on Art for Children in the Style of Great Masters by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Mary Solga, did not suggest anything specific for subject matter. Its suggestion is to paint a landscape, an animals a person, etc. Basically, whatever. And no picture of a finished student project as usually is featured. So that left me to thinking, “What is the best subject matter to attempt with the kind of painting we are doing?”

The novelty in this project is trying different ways to texture the paint. Because Morisot painted with thick brush strokes and globs of paint, the idea is to give students some fun with chunky paint–by adding everything from sand to crushed egg shells.

What could we paint with such textured paints that would be simple enough? Somehow, I got the idea that painting a dog would be really fitting for the gloppy paint, so I searched through her work for one. I found Girl with Dog:

Girl with Dog, 1886 - Berthe Morisot

Girl with Dog by Berthe Morisot, found at Wikiart.



(This was designed with my class o 9-11 year olds in mind.)

Supply list:

tempera paints


toothpicks (to be used as brushes)

heavy paper or paperboard (the heavier the better)

masking tape

substances to add to paints: sand, flour, egg shells, glitter, etc.*

*The book suggests salt. I highly recommend to skip that! I painted over the results of this in my sample project below because this is what happens when you mix salt into paint and use it to cover a surface, you will look at it later and realize the salt globs have drawn all the paint to themselves, leaving the area on the surface around them bare! (There’s a science experiment in there!) Good lesson, not recommended for paint.

I chose the following:

yellow with sand mixed in for the chair , brown with flour mixed in for the girl’s hair and the dog’s fur (I didn’t choose white for the dog simply because I was out of white paint.),  and blue mixed with egg shells for the dress, and green (once mixed with salt, that I now don’t recommend) and a color suitable for her skin and chair cushion.

That last part is a bit of challenge: the skin tone. the paints don’t come in that color. I mixed the remaining white i had with a bit of yellow and brown for a light beige. FOr my class, I’d like to have that mixed already. ALL these paints have to be prepared for the students–the items mixed in, etc. because there’s not time for them to prepare the paint AND paint their project.

Step 1:

I will show Morisot’s original and my finished project. I considered allowing them to choose their own subject or a variation of what I chose, but I realized that with the time constraint we have, there just won’t be time for me to coach different children through their own chosen subjects. The only way we’ll have a prayer at success is if I can model the same process to all students at once. Because the real goal is to experience painting with these textures, we want to focus on painting and not get stuck on difficulties individual students might face trying to make their collie look right or wondering how to get their self-portrait drawn in the right perspective. The shapes have to be simple and simplified to even use these thick paints. So I am going the route of a single subject on this project, unlike last week.

Step 2:

Students will have heavy paper taped down (to prevent warping. Below I will show how much mine warped.)  The first step is to—

I struggled with this. I did sketch the basic boundaries between the colors on my paper before painting. But some students won’t feel the need to do that. Not doing it, if not needed, may save time. So this is what I will do with my class: give them the option. So for those who feel the need to sketch a VERY basic outline (NO details) before painting, that is step 2. I will place the sketch which I show below, traced in black marker, on my easel for the class to see. For students who don’t want to sketch first, skip to step 3.

Based on recent weeks’ experience, demonstrating every step with them is challenging if you want to also be available to answer questions and help students.  I may just point to each shape and trace the lines with my finger when I give them the instructions–so then I can attend to individuals while the rest of the class can still see the basic shapes on the easel. Note: skipping the leaves can save time.


Step 3: Painting. Because I will have my finished product displayed, the kids can pretty much go at their own pace, on their own. I will instruct them to consider using different sized brushes, even toothpicks, to best get the different paint concoctions on the paper. There is not a lot of skill to demonstrate this week; it’s similar to coloring: fill each space with color, the end.

I will suggest though–soley based on my recent weeks’ experience teaching these art projects–that there is never enough time. While I always teach  doing the background first (even though you can tell I forgot my own advice around her braid), I am going to skip the background altogether for this project. (White is good!) Also, skipping the plants is another time-saver if you think that might serve your class well.


Note about the textures: The yellow with sand in it is really thick, but it is perfect for using for that chair. I just used a brush and laid it in lines, choosing to make the width the brush painted to be the width of the chair rungs.

The blue with egg shells? Well, it’s really not easy, and a bit time-consuming, to crush eggs like that. And it really doesn’t make for a great paint texture. (Though maybe if it were crushed into smaller pieces, maybe then it is better?) But I will say, in the end, it was a lovely choice for her dress because it makes it look like her dress fabric has a pattern.

The brown mixed with flour was the best; it’s a lot like dealing with chocolate icing! I knew it’d be great for the dog’s fur, and it didn’t disappoint. My dog has 3D fur–tufts of fut sticking up. That was really a lot of fun! Using it in her hair was even fun because I really looks like she has a lot of hair. I obviously used this brown for the eye and eyebrow too. I think I used toothpicks for applying the brown for those–and I might have used toothpicks even for the dog’s fur.

The green, as I made it, had salt mixed in originally. As I mentioned before, that gave bad results. I later painted over it in just plain green. You can see how, even now–weeks after I made it–parts are still discolored due to the salt. And there are some salt stains in places.

Note about warping: I painted my sample at home using cardboard. We will use watercolor paper in class. The paint is so heavy that warping is a real issue! Our director will tape them down for us. But if you do find you have a warping situation, I can a solution. below you can see form the top how much mine curled. (The left side is at least 1.5 inches off the table!). To resolve this, when the entirety is dry, flip it over and wet the whole back with a paint brush. When it is wet and pliable, then place heavy objects on all corners, perhaps even the middle of the sides. It will then dry flat. mine is flat now.


Confession: Check with your director about this, but there is never enough time for a good painting class, but lately, I’ve taken the idea of a fellow tutor I’ve worked with and allowed the kids to paint past my official instruction time (since we have review time right after and I do review games that can be done as they work on their paintings. Now, we do have to leave the painting area our director set up by 11:45, so she can clean before lunch, but those extra fifteen minutes are such a benefit to my 9-11 year olds. It takes the entire class time to arrive at the room, get paint shirts on, let the students see the master work, give  instructions–then time is nearly up?!

I’m trying to get better at talking about the artist conversationally as we’re painting, to be more efficient with time. (I used to take 5-10 minutes to introduce them to the artist and is/her work, but the kids really NEED all the time to paint they can get.

I will share one last image:


This last picture I share because the day I made my sample, I hid it and then placed my leftover paints on the windowsill. Then I sent my kids to quiet time. My seven-year-old son found my sample and my paints. He was so inspired to try it himself, he did, with no instruction. Here is his result. And he had so much fun and was so proud!

If you try this, please comment with tips and observations and ideas!

Other posts:

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)

The “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls Apart

Degas with Chalk

Recognizing the Good Days (and My Son’s Fascination with Medieval Korean Pottery)


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Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)

Every year since I’ve begun homeschooling, I look toward a new year and feel the pressure to be better with time management–knowing time management will break or make our upcoming year. Every year, I’ve added either another student to our school or have added subjects for existing students. I have seen each year with a strong conviction that the year will whip my butt if I don’t master my personal and school schedules!

                                                    My kids, first day of school this year.

I’m not a naturally scheduled person. One of my favorite things about leaving high school and going to college was staying up all night, writing or painting with such absorption that I lost all track of time and skipped meals. But this does not work well with raising kids. Hence, all the more reason why I  really need a schedule. So while I know many unschoolers or other types of homeschoolers who eschew a schedule and manage to be productive–what I can say is, I’m glad for them and wish them well. I just am not one of them!

Have you seen the book The Homeschool Experiment by Charity Hawkins? It’ll make anyone laugh who has gotten through the first year or two and/or tried to homeschool with a baby!

The Homeschool Experiment: A Novel   -     By: Charity Hawkins

The Homeschool Experiment by Charity Hawkins 

My favorite part was how the chapters, each covering a month of a school year, began with the mom’s daily schooling schedule. The first one is perfect–ideal, rigorous, balanced, with many goals. As each month goes on, you can see her expectations have altered. By the end of the year? It changes in many ways, among them becoming extremely simplified! But that to me is really the best representation of the journey you go on as a homeschooling parent.

It’s good to make that ideal schedule–but you have to know that it WILL reveal itself to be tweaked or OVERHAULED!!!

Last year, my challenges in creating our daily schedule, compared to the previous year, were to keep in mind that my 2.5 year old would not be content to just entertain herself all morning, and I had to fit in science a couple times a week because of my first grader who revealed himself to be passionate about it. (On top of everything we did the previous year.) My big hurdle that year was time. I knew I had to start the day earlier. Previously, when my sons had been in grades 2 and K, we didn’t start until 9. But all summer, I pep-talked myself to start at 8. (I work at writing and editing in the afternoon, so all schooling had to be done before lunch.)

Yes, the image of my schedule below isn’t the best–but the point is noticing the linear form, the blocks.


Basically, everything is the same every day of the week, 8-noon, except there is some juggling to fit in art once  week and Spanish, and a review game another day, geography another day. And 11:15, some days, it’s science, other days it’s history.

Then this summer, I was driving myself crazy to try to use this format again with our new reality in which no two days are the same! (Between co-ops two days a week, a mid-morning activity, and one day I need to shorten a bit for an afternoon commitment, our time is not as regular.) When I tried to chart it out, it was very complex, and it just made me dizzy. The whole reason I make a graphic is so I can take a glance and see the future day/hours ahead of me. But a glance at these attempts just made me feel overwhelmed!

Even drawing the bisected (or trisected) rectangles just got too complicated–especially when things didn’t break down neatly. I mean, doing a subject from 11:55 to 11:20 is just–weird. Like that will stick!! Public schools that run on bells do such things, but this would not work in our home! (And I don’t want to try to make that work.)

An additional challenge was in the shapes of the graphic itself. I measure my time by a circular clock with the divisions of quarter hours obviously demarcated very differently than a rectangle divided in halves or quarters. When I’m busy and a bit overwhelmed, multiple children pulling me in different directions with different needs and questions, I need something simple enough so that when I look from one graphic to another, I don’t need time to translate.

So I thought, what if the schedule looked like the clock? What if my hours were shaped like circles instead of rectangles? What if my partial-hour increments were like pieces of a pie or half a circle? This is what I got:homeschool-schedule-best-001

Somehow, this works so much better for me, a visual person! The demarcations of transitions form lines that actually looked exactly the same on paper as they do on the clock! I can easily look at this graphic without expending any brain power to go from a system of rectangles in a linear formation to a system represented by circles.  (I’m telling you it’s the little things that make a big difference when you’re a teacher and your day may best be defined as being pelted with questions and having to make decisions every. single. second.)

I also coded it: a bold line around the edge of the circle if it involved my one son, and a thin line if it involved the other. When they are both involved, I draw in both lines. (My third pre-school aged child can join wherever/whenever she likes, so I didn’t muddy the graphic by writing anything for her.)

The only thing that keeps it from being perfect is the weirdness of a subject going past the hour. For instance, I have one son doing reading from 8:45-9:15. It’s just a bit weird that when you look at the 8-9 circle, you see only the first half of the reading class. Where your eye needs to go next is the top of the hour for 9-10. But it’s just  bit less than the natural thing your mind wants to do. I’ve considered ways to represent this that could reflect the continuous flow of time, but I’ve not come up with one. (I’ve considered making it 3D, like a paper coil or spiral where you could see the hours flowing into each other–but even if that were a more accurate representation, it’d hardly be user friendly. It needs to be used easily with a mere glance, and with no need to turn anything with my fingers.)

I showed my Thursday schedule above. My 11:00-12:00 circle is different on Fridays. And the other days of the week have significant differences because we have other commitments. But this schedule shown is the main one I use every day we are home all morning.

The first couple weeks, I felt like it was a bit nutty and rued my plans for the year that dictated that we don’t have two days of the week the same. But honestly, after a few weeks, it became easy and normal.

And I should say a few words about the fact that this is a suggestion/guide for me. I don’t ring a bell at the end of a time segment. I’m a big believer that you have to have boundaries formed to be able to make the best decision about bending them. Kinda like how you need to know the rules of grammar and composition in order to make the best decisions about breaking those rules and being more experimental or expressive. I need the ideal, balanced schedule up as a guide, but on a day to day basis, I switch things around, or decide to skip something altogether because maybe history is going really well and the kids are really enjoying the project they are doing.

Last, the very bottom of the sheet shows part of a list of things I have the boys do during “quiet time.” Every afternoon, not only do I need time alone to do the writing/editing on the side, but the kids need time away from each other. They each claim it is a favorite part of the day. As a creative myself, I totally get that and am glad they value it. It used to be always and only free drawing time for my every artistic boys. Now the older they get, I do use the beginning as homework time. It’s good for things the boys best do without interaction: handwriting practice, copywork, practice doing math functions (either on computer or on worksheets), and for my piano student, to practice his music.

This was my most complex year to schedule, and I think the circle graphic saved my sanity both as I planned our flow and as we moved through the months.

Did my schedule change/simplify throughout the year so far like in the Homeschool Experiment novel? Well, no. I guess that means it was pretty workable. The only problem is: my eroding discipline of getting breakfast on time… So, like the character in Charity Hawkin’s novel, if I posted my “real” schedule lately, it’d show breakfast at 8:15 or 8:30 instead of 8:00. And history often shrinks to 30 minutes to compensate. (But that’s another story/problem.)

What kind of schedule works best for you? If you’ve ever done a circle graph, please share how!

Other posts of mine:

The “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls Apart

Ten Mom Excuses Not to Get Around to Blogging

When You’re Hospitality-Challenged

Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire

Creating Edible Chocolate Mice Treats

Recognizing the Good Days (and My Son’s Fascination with Medieval Korean Pottery)

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The “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls Apart

This is the hope of the busy parent, right? To find the perfect schedule for the family, where all things are not only accomplished, but in balance.You juggle the kids’ activities and your own, looking ahead to every school year like each season is a Tetris game in your head and you’re trying to best fit in all the pieces: sports practices, classes, dance and/or music lessons, church activities, time for schoolwork, time with family unit, time with extended family, and, oh yeah-this mom should exercise?

This past August, I though I’d hit upon the year of perfection. It was going to be balanced and not too crazy! (Well, at least until baseball season starts up in February. Five months of craziness!)

My husband and I are serious about not letting activities control our lives. The aforementioned baseball is the one sacrifice we’ve made for our son who is obsessed with it, who is interested in no other sport, team or activity. And we have a one-activity-per -child rule. (I know, some find that limiting–you’ve gotta define your family goals and parenting goals, and each family has to figure that out for themselves. For us, juggling dance, piano and baseball is enough. Last year we did archery too, bending our one-activity-only rule. This year, that was taken off the table; the club no longer exists.)


But yes, at the beginning of this school year, I had it all figured out. I even could get myself to the gym one morning a week. It was perfect–on the way to a weekly commitment this one weekday, and there was childcare! It was not even out of my way-it was on the way.

And I found my preschooler a dance class one morning a week, which felt like a win, because I do my best to protect at least some evenings a week to prioritize having time together to relax as a family. For the first weeks of the school year, I got used to his routine, and it was great.

But then it fell apart. Just one little piece of the puzzle no longer fit. And the whole “balance” thing came crashing down. My yoga class that one morning–well, it’s one of those classes that is done to a soundtrack, in a routine. And the teacher sticks with it for a good four months or more. A new one began in September, and it became abundantly clear after I tried it three times that it did not fit me. It just made my body hurt. I hurt myself. It required way more upper body strength than I had. And yes, I’ve done yoga long enough to know I can alter certain poses if something isn’t the best for my body. But half the routine fell in this category. It was grueling. I couldn’t find any pleasure or relaxation in this class. (And isn’t that why one takes yoga?) I left class with muscle spasms between my shoulders.

I looked at every gym in the area trying to find another yoga class to fit my schedule. No luck at all. Join me for just one moment–one moment of lament! That’s a legit literary form. (It’s even Biblical.) I won’t wallow too long–I promise. But can anyone hear me in my lament? To have had it all figured out and then something you thought was invariable changed?

So I gave up exercise for myself this fall. It was the sacrifice I made last year and that I swore I would not do again this year! My body could really tell the difference last year. It takes a couple months of forgoing yoga, and then I just feel stiff all the time, inflexible, and…brittle.

Other moms mention doing workouts at home, for free! Do it first thing in the morning, they say. Do it after kids go to bed, they say. (I’ll  spare you paragraphs to explain why my early mornings and late nights are already booked with other activities I need to do without kids around.) Some moms even talk of  exercising in their home with awake children! I’d not found success with this.

But I’m all about being persistent–to solve the problem rather than give up! But I first had to train my boys to stay busy in another room. (Because nothing is more counter-productive to yoga that constant interruptions and pleas to make decisions! “What are we having for lunch? Can I stay up late tonight to watch that show I like? Have you seen my scissors? What page did you say again? Next week, can we ___”) For my youngest, there was just nothing for it though–she has magnetism to me, so as I did yoga, she sometimes wanted to do it with me, and other times, on me. But it was what it was. We just made it our Tuesday morning routine before lunch. My kids had been accustomed to that time slot when I went to the gym, so I never got rid of it completely. I told them, “It’s just like I’m at the gym. You stay in one room and I’ll be in another, exercising.” It sorta works. Some days.

So the perfect schedule, that ever-elusive thing… In the words of U2, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. But that is life, that is parenting. (Back in college, I thought it was just a college thing! Trying, semester by semester, to create ideal week, even ideal days–loving the control of my new adult life.)

As when I had infants and struggled with lack of sleep, nursing issues, colic–you name it–I kept reminding myself: the only real constant in the life of being a mom to an infant is that it keeps changing. Every 1-3 months, your baby was a different animal, doing different things. By the I got a routine down, mastered handling whatever the challenge of the stage was, the stage changed! There was a comfort in that too for the things that were really hard; they were not forever.

Likewise, my schedule challenge of today is not forever. I’m noticing the cycle of three pretty distinct phases our school years. Fall/early winter, baseball season, summer. Very soon, it’s time to regroup and re-do my mental Tetris challenge to fit the needs of our life around baseball. And I *may* even get to go to yoga again. (Rumor is that the class’s soundtrack/routine will change by the end of he month.) So I’m optimistic! (Also because I made a friend in another mom at baseball last season who has suggested we can share handling the baseball practices for our sons. Her husband too has a job with hours that don’t often leave him free to help share the sports demands. That gives me hope too!)

So does anyone else out there share the goal to create the perfect weekly schedule and balance??? Has anyone found it??

As a homeschool mom, my other obsession is finding the “ideal homeschool schedule” that makes the best use of my time and my kids’.  (But that’s another topic. I wrote about it in “Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graphic).”)


Other posts of mine:

12 Mom Reasons Why Knoebels is the Best Amusement Park

Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire

Ten Mom Excuses Not to Get Around to Blogging

Letter to My Future Daughters-in-Law, from a Crunchy Mama


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Degas with Chalk

This is the most fun art project–and I dare say–the quickest one I’ve ever seen in the Fine Arts painting curriculum! I’m excited to do this with my class, week 17, for Classical Conversations.

            Ballet Rehearsal by Edgar Degas, found at:

The Project:

The book Discovering Great Artists: Hands-on Art for Children in the Style of Great Masters by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Mary Solga suggests painting fish. While that is a very good idea, for the sake of the girls in my class who love ballet, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try Edgar Degas’ quintessential subject: the dancer! In class, I will show my example of the dancer, but give students options. For my class of 9-11 year olds, I will bring in books with Degas’ dancers as well as books with tropical fish photos.


cotton fabric (muslin is a good choice) cut for each student

milk (dairy milk, of course, but as we don’t have dairy milk in our house. I used oat milk that we tried but did not like. (It worked as intended, just fine.)



surface for ironing

Step 1: Put milk in bowl, and place fabric in the milk. Once it is saturated, wring out the cloth. (Note, wringing out cloth makes it wrinkly. You could perhaps find a very careful way to squeeze out the milk without wrinkles–or you could do what I am going to do: sell it to the kids as a great, natural opportunity for texture.)

Step 2: Place it on a newspaper covered area for each student. Give students chalk.

*Note about my chalk: we had the most deceptive box of chalk ever. It showed 10-12 colors across the box front–ranging from white through many pastel colors, including a nice flesh color. But inside the box there were really 6 colors: all flourescent. No white, no flesh color. SO my vision of this project–to focus on the Impressionists’ preoccupation with light–was immediately bust. I envisioned replicating this dancer above using mostly white with hints of blue and warmer colors for her skin. Well, mid-drawing, I scrapped that plan and decided the focus of the project would be the bright colors (Because there was no shortage of bright colors in this box! The only muted one was the brown.)

Step 3: Let the fun begin! I will instruct my studnets to lightly draw the basic shapes of thier dancer or fish. Using yellow chalk (light, because darker colors will cover it later, if need be), I drew the basic shapes of the main dancer that is part of the paiting at the top of this blog: mostly circles and elongated ovals for this. (I’m sorry, when I did this project, I wasn’t planning on uploading the steps, and therefore did not take pictures of each step.)

This is such a great dancer to mimic, of all his dancers, because the pose is really uncomplicated. And when you’re using chalk on a wet surface, you will be glad we don’t need to make more nuanced, detailed outlines of the legs! Chalk, as a medium on a wet surface, will make you an Impressionist! If you have perfectionist/detailed propensities, this project will deny you that pursuit! The chalk is a bit hard to control in a first-time use, and there is no erasing. So just go with it; enjoy how the color smears on so effortlessly. Remind yourself, the Impressionists’ goal was to make the impression of the thing–not record its every detail–and capture the way light reflected off it. The goals are really quite achievable in this project.


After taking my results to my tutor meeting, my director said she could get white chalk if I wanted to go with my orignal plan requiring a lot of white. I said I’d take my project home, re-wet the fabric, and see if I could add white on top and achieve my desired result. In the picture above, you can see the left half of her dress is darker, and that is because I started re-wetting the fabric with oat milk again. Below, the entire dancer is covered with the milk.


I wish I had a picture of what it looked like coated with white chalk for highlights (most of her the skirt, much of her skin). I laid it on THICKLY. At the top of this post, you see Degas’ dancer is mostly white.

Step 4: When the student is done drawing (no matter if the fabric is wet or dry), take it the iron, on the wool setting. Make sure you have newspaper or scrap paper under and overtop the fabric. Ironing dries the milk as well as sets the color–somewhat. (The book advises not washing this as it won’t be colorfast.) Ironing takes away the chalky residue and leaves a smooth surface that does not transfer color to your fingers.

Others have asked me, “Won’t the newspaper ink transfer?” Before I even did this, I could say, “No” As a fabric batiker for years, using newspaper to iron wax out of dyed fabric, I can speak to this with complete confidence: iron away.

Very important note: the white chalk dissolves in the milk! My dancer, prior to this ironing, looked like her costume has been caught in a blizzard of white snow–at first! The heat makes the powder dissolve even more. So this is a very important lesson: you need to use chalk with pigment if you want it to stay! White can be used to keep an area white but it will not be effective at covering a pigment underneath.


Finished product: My final result, after re-applying white 3 times (!): there is some muting of the pastels in her skirt and on the left of her bodice. But word to the wise–white can hardly be counted on to lighten up darker colors already used; the class done’st have the time to re-apply and re-apply as I did. So, knowing this, I’m back to planning my students’project goal to really be about  bright colors.


As you can see above, there’s not much distinction between my two versions; applying many layers of white chalk on top for the second one did not make much of a difference.

Hopefully, my discoveries and mistakes will equip you to know what to avoid, but most of all, know that despite all, this has been my favorite project so far for the year. I think kids will love it! I think it’s the easiest one so far, and really doable in our time frame.

And if you do this, please share further experiences and tips below!

Other articles:

Morisot and Painting Texture

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)

The “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls Apart

Recognizing the Good Days (and My Son’s Fascination with Medieval Korean Pottery)

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

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Teaching a Monet Landscape

Monet, a 19th century Frenchman, remains a quintessential Impressionist painter. (In fact, the name for the Impressionist movement comes from Monet, from the tile of a painting, specifically.) In this lesson (week 16 for Fine Arts in Classical Conversations curriculum), the entire idea of Impressionism receives its debut. I love having students first view a print of an Impressionist painting from a significant distance–where they can easily see the image. Then I like to find a book that features a close up of one detail–and  it’s unrecognizable. The surprise factor is pretty cool. (You could also do this in reverse: show the detail first, then a whole painting at a distance.)

What follows are my plans for teaching this to a class of 9-11 year olds (Journeymen/Masters in CC speak.).


After last week’s lesson on Gainesborough, the students have a great jumping off point for comparison. I will ask mine, “Does Monet do details like Gainesborough?” Noting their observations of the differences will help form a good definition of Impressionism. Some differences they may note:

–color blending is not smooth in Monet like in Gainesborough

–when Monet does people, they are not usually formal portraits–just scenes of people moving in every day life

–there is a lot of white/light

The Impressionists goals, broadly speaking, were to capture light and movement, not painstaking detail.

The Project

While the book Discovering Great Artists: Hands-on Art for Children in the Style of Great Masters by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Mary Solga suggests copying the famous Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies of Monet’s, I looked for a different work to emulate because half my class painted it three years ago. I also chose water color in order to give my students some experience with it, as it’s the only opportunity this year.

Looking through the options of Monet works, I chose Banks of the Seine, Vetheuil because I love the colors, its tranquility, and because teaching from it provides an opportunity to build on last week’s Gainesborough landscape. Because this is another landscape with sky (background), middleground and foreground, this project can review/cement the top-to-bottom process in painting landscapes. (Also, my students learned about the Seine River, so it’s a great connection to their memory work.)

Banks of the Seine, Vétheuil by Claude Monet

Banks of the Seine, Vetheuil, by Claude Monet, 1880, found at:


water color paper (it REALLY matters)

water colors


water for each student

newspapers covering the table


plenty of newspaper or paper towels for student to wipe brushes on while painting

Step 1: I will give my students paper and describe the project: learning some impressionistic painting techniques like Monet popularized to create a landscape.

Step 1: Sky

I will ask students where we need to start with a landscape. The answer is, the top, because it is ever so much more difficult to paint a sky behind everything you already painted than it is to paint tree branches over top an existing sky. To begin the sky, I will explain that because we have water color, one painting technique is to paint on wet paper. I will start with having my students paint clear water over the portion that will be the sky. Then it gets fun: get a chosen sky color on your brush and experiment. I will have them try swiping paint from side to side versus just touching the brush to the paper to make a splotch or spots. Have them see what happens when the water color touches the wet paper.


Whatever effect they like best, tell them to go with it to make their sky. Impressionists achieved their look by making many short brush strokes. They “blended” colors by often just using two at the same time (rather than mixing them to a smooth, even tint). This can be seen in blues and yellow of the sky of Monet’s work above.


Impressionists focused a lot on light, and one really cool technique to try is blotting the painted paper with a corner of a tissue. This is effective for when you applied to much paint and want things to be lighter, to go back to white. (This is where it is imperative you have heavy watercolor paper! The paper I have is not sturdy enough to handle a lot of this without the fibers beginning to tear, but it could handle some.)  One of the great advantages of water color is this flexibility. Even when the paint has dried, just the addition of water makes it changeable again. Allow the students to experiment with this.

Step 3: Tree line

Using green mixed with brown (to get the darkest color I will use in this), I painted a horizontal line to represent the far edge of the river. I will tell my students that Monet didn’t make trees with individual branches–he made them with splotches and smudges of paint. The idea is to represent an approximate shape because color and light (or lack thereof) were the primary goals.


Step 4: Water

As the above picture shows, I  brushed water across the entire area destined to be water. I applied blue in splotches, and then, to make the reflecting  trees/shrubs, I applied green in horizontal lines with spaces between–to give the impression of the water’s reflection being broken up. (Remind the students of mirror-image–fine arts review!) But the water looked too blah to me, so, as you can see on the left, I added more blue by adding dashes. The picture for the next step will show the effect of covering the entire area this way.


Step 5: foreground greenery

For this bottom third, I will tell my students that I  did not pre-wet the paper with my brush. Because the most detail goes here (because it’s the foreground), I wanted a bit more control. I first covered the entire area with a darkish green, in upward strokes. (Otherwise, a lot of white of the paper would peek through between every weed). Then I panted vertical green lines. I was glad I started on dry paper so I could get green lines that would not blur out.


At this stage, I decided that parts of my sky were too dark blue. The great thing about water color is–you can change that! I just dipped my brush in water and went over the dark parts to dilute the color some. I think the result is an improvement. To get more drastic, I could have used a tissue to blot some of the paint off.

Step 6: Blooms

I added blobs of color to represent flowers. We’re doing this the Impressionist way–no flowers with distinct shapes and petals–just blobs of paint smooshed on with the end of the brush. Sometimes I made tiny dots, such as with the blue and red on the left. But it’s all quick work, I will tell my students.


As I mentioned in the last lesson, I did not have a lot of time to sink into this–but then, perhaps this is better. Students have limited time in class too! As always, I encourage students who aren’t done to take it home and complete it. In our community, I save each student’s favorite project from each visual arts unit to display at the end-of-year celebration, so that’s good motivation!

Lastly, if you try this, add to the conversation with observations and your ideas!

Other posts:

Degas with Chalk

Morisot and Painting Texture

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)

The “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls Apart

Classroom Management: Positive Social Motivation


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